This week has totally been filled with big sister pride. My eight year old brother was invited into the honor program at his elementary school, and today my baby (eighteen year old) brother moves into his dorm room for his freshman year of college (WHAT?!). I know it’s cliche but I can’t help but sit here in awe wondering “where the heck did time go?”. My brother and I are opposites in so many ways, but recently I’ve started to realize how similar we are too (both introverts, both studious,both total weirdos). My brother has always been strong academically. He’s one of those kids we all hated in high school because he would go into an AP test without studying and score a 5. Though I definitely prioritized academics and always did well, I was never THAT kid.
Now my brother is starting his freshman year at the University of Washington and I could not be more proud. Whether he majors in biology or chemistry or english or foreign film I know he will succeed. I can’t wait to see where his university experience takes him!
To “celebrate” my brother’s first day on campus I want to share some of my favorite study tips for succeeding in college. Please feel free to comment with your tips as well, studying is different for everyone and just because something worked well for me doesn’t mean it works well for everyone!
For many college students finding the motivation for study can be difficult. Luckily, studying is a skill set that can be improved (and mastered) with practice.
Get into the “Study Zone”
One of the easiest ways to improve concentration is by creating a space conducive to productivity. Some students work well in bed or on the couch, but for many a space set aside just for studying or schoolwork increases concentration. Set aside an area for a clean, organized workspace like a desk. If there isn’t a space for a desk at home or you find yourself easily distracted by your home environment check out a local library or coffee shop. I personally love the option consistent coffee and snack supply offered at a coffee shop in addition to the quiet atmosphere. Productivity at its finest!
By creating a space for studying your mind will learn to associate this area with distraction free productivity. The caveat? A productive space only works if you set the precedent! While you’re in your self-proclaimed “study space” minimize distractions by turning off your phone and utilizing applications like FocusLock or SelfControl. These useful applications for PCs or Smartphones help by blocking certain websites or applications for a predetermined length of time.
Take some time to figure out the climate and environment you prefer to study in. Do you like music or need silence (I prefer binaural beats)? Do you prefer to work around other people or find commotion too distracting? Test out several study spots and switch up the variables. Once you discover your preferences implement necessary changes to your study spot.
Be Prepared for Intense (Intentional) Study
Having an ideal study space is a great start, however your mindset going into studying is the most crucial component of concentration. Before you open up your textbook prioritize the work at hand. Make a list of what you hope to achieve and set micro goals for your study session. Put your Erin Condren Life Planner to good use! Goals can revolve around finishing a set of tasks, studying for a block of time or writing a set number of words. No matter what kind of goals you aim to achieve, it is important to enter your work session with a goal-oriented mindset.
Breaking bigger projects or assignments into smaller tasks may aide concentration. Rather than spending six hours straight working on a large research paper, you can spend two hours at a time three days in a row. After an hour of undistracted work allow yourself to grab a cup of coffee, take a short walk, or read a chapter of a book unrelated to school. A short 5-15 minute break is a great refresher before checking in to study again.
Study Smarter to Increase Memory
Test anxiety is a common fear among high school and college students. Bright and ambitious students often find themselves underachieving on exams despite hours reviewing lecture material. Low performance on exams is not always tied to an inability to learn but inefficient memorization tactics.
While reading assigned materials or listening to lectures it is important to take notes. Active note taking has been proven time and time again to increase long term memory of written content. Furthermore, your lecture and/or reading notes will lay the foundation for additional study later on. I liked to color coordinate my notes from the beginning, translation: I looked like the freak in class with 5 different colored pens and 7 different highlighters spread out on her desk. Though I looked like overly obsessive about color coordinating I found that my colorful note taking really helped me when looking back through my notes. Using different colors to differentiate topics or subjects made it easier to intake visually than large blocks of sloppy handwritten text.
When preparing for an exam studying with the intent to memorize material is critical. There are several common study tactics that work well for helping students memorize classroom content:
Create a “Study Guide”
Use a blank sheet of paper or two to create a comprehensive “study guide” for the upcoming exam. Pretend you can use this sheet of paper as a cheat sheet on the test, what information would you want right in front of you? Rewriting lecture material is a great way to help cement content into your memory.
Play Memorization Games or Use Mnemonic Devices:
Flashcards are a classic study tactic to help students memorize leanings not just because they’re inexpensive but because they’re effective. Carry your flashcards with you throughout the day for the week leading up to a big exam. Use downtime waiting for the bus, in line at the grocery store or before bed to review your flashcards. Other mnemonic devices such as creating a poem, phrase or acronym are incredibly useful for memorizing processes or complex equations (think PEMDAS or “Never Eat Soggy Wheat”, or “Every Good Boy Does Fine”). I was such a dork in high school that I made up a “jingle” about the French Revolution to recall key facts, it’s no surprise that I ended up majoring in History!
Make Studying Social
Studying with a friend, sorority sister, classmate or boyfriend can make studying feel more fun but can also help increase learning! Whether you’re the one tutoring your sorority sisters or your bestie is quizzing you on European monarchs, it is useful to collaborate. Studying together and verbally repeating course information helps you to retain the information you learned. If you’re able to teach someone else about a subject it is proof that you have really mastered the material. However, be careful not to allow social studying to morph into gossip hour! Social studying only helps if you actually focus on the required material, online shoe shopping, recapping a bad date or laughing about your professor’s weird collection of seventies blazers won’t help you pass your next exam.
Though studying can feel daunting, working to increase your concentration and memory can make you a more efficient studier. Experiment with these study tactics to find what works well for you, it may take a bit of trial and error but eventually you will discover the best study routine and memorization tactics for your field of study and unique personality.